Life is Difficult

"Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering."  Carl Jung

Life is Difficult
Life is Difficult

Team Phenixhates homework. No, really. "Hate" is the right word. I assume we aren't alone.

Homework can be difficult.  Most of the time, we don't like difficult.  Homework can be boring. We like exciting.  Homework always seems to focus on subjects outside of our current skill set.  We enjoy doing what we're already good at.  We enjoy being competent.

Still, we can't argue the value homework provides; the practice homework demands makes us better at solving problems.  And so, since Billy and I endured homework long enough to get a handful of degrees, we make our offspring practice problem-solving as well.

We tell our kids, when it comes to learning, you have to tackle problems with enough frequency to have competent mental skills.  The principle holds true in non-academic life as well.

You have to tackle life's problems head-on in order to have competent mental health skills.

In Scott Peck's seminal book, "The Road Less Traveled," Peck argues that life is a series of problems, and, regrettably, most of us work to avoid problems.  When we avoid problems, however, we stunt our development.  Problems and legitimate suffering are, in fact, what keep us growing and mentally healthy.  By avoiding problems, Peck argues, we all lack, to some extent, complete mental health. (Wikipedia has a nice outline of the book here)

How's that for an idea? Our mental well-being is tied to how well we deal with our junk!

Peck's most compelling thesis is:  if you want to stay sane, you have to show discipline.  Specifically, Peck says you must:

  1. Schedule pain before pleasure ("Delay gratification")
  2. Be accountable for your issues ("Accept responsibility")
  3. Be honest no matter what ("Dedication to the truth"), and
  4. Know how to handle conflicting demands ("Balancing" - is THIS where the term started?  Hmmm.).

To do less than be disciplined in these areas is to set yourself up for a life of neurosis or mental imbalance.  Who wants that?

"Discipline" sounds great.  But, practically speaking,  what are specific ways to start to build these habits? What does practice look like on a daily basis?  How  do you nail the basics?

I've been giving this some thought, and, for fun, I started a short list in each of these areas.

Goal  - Delay gratification

Practical steps -  Be slow to speak and quick to listen; start with the least desirable task first; have zero tolerance for procrastination.

Goal - Accept responsibility

Practical steps - Focus on next steps rather than blame. ("'Why' is the booby prize.") If necessary "over"own responsibilities. Ask "how can I improve?" to colleagues.

Goal - Be honest no matter what

Practical steps - Be plain even when it's awkward; find someone who will hold you accountable on honesty; conduct all actions in daylight for others to see (i.e., "no secrets").

Goal - "Balancing"

Practical steps - Blend in the largest priorities first; focus on your calendar (what you DO) rather than your goal list (what you SAY); stop saying you're busy.

When you think about applying these ideas to your life, feel free to dream big OR get even more basic than I.  (No one will ever know!)  Although I don't wish you any problems, I do wish for you plenty opportunities for practice.

Maybe we can all learn to appreciate homework more.